90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
‘Jefferson’s Qu’ran’ And Islam In America

How a founding father, Thomas Jefferson, came to understand Islam.

On President Thomas Jefferson's gravestone in Virginia, his promotion of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was one of the three things he was most proud of. (Creative Commons)

On President Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone in Virginia, his promotion of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was one of the three things he was most proud of. (Creative Commons)

Back in the founding days of this nation, ideas were big.  The rights of Man.  Democracy, and citizenship.  And of course, freedom of religion.  But the religious debates were mostly among Protestants.  Catholics and Jews were the outliers.  Muslims?  Well they were beyond the pale.  The Ottoman, the Barbary pirate.  And, lest we forget, the American slave.  But a new book says Thomas Jefferson thought about Islam and could see a day when Muslims would be a part of the fabric of American democracy.  This hour On Point:  Thomas Jefferson, his Koran and Islam in American history.

Guests

Denise Spellberg, professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of “Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam And The Founders.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota’s Fifth District. First Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress. (@KeithEllison)

From The Reading List

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an,’ by Denise Spellberg — “One of the strangest symptoms of our diseased political culture is the stubborn belief of some, despite all the contrary evidence, that President Obama is a Muslim. Slander and calumny are hardly new features of American politics. Usually it takes the form of an accusation that so-and-so is a socialist, or even a ‘commie’ – another fervid charge frequently leveled at our current president. But as it turns out, the accusation that he is a Muslim is a quality that Obama shares with one of his most illustrious predecessors, Thomas Jefferson.”

The Daily Beast: How Islam Shaped the Founders — “Thomas Jefferson, a central figure in Spellberg’s book, had a strong, lifelong commitment to religious liberty. Jefferson rejected toleration, the alternative perspective and one embraced by John Locke and John Adams, as grounded on the idea that a religious majority has a right to impose its will on a religious minority, but chooses to be tolerant for reasons of benevolence. Religious liberty, Jefferson argued, denies the majority any right to coerce a dissenting minority, even one hostile to religion. Jefferson rejected using government power to coerce religious belief and practice because it would create a nation of tyrants and hypocrites, as it is impossible to force someone to believe against the promptings of his conscience.”

New York Times: People Of the Book – “Jefferson, studying law at the College of William and Mary, acquired an English translation of Islam’s sacred text. He never claimed that the Quran shaped his political orientation. Yet Spellberg, an associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, makes a persuasive case for its centrality. To oversimplify: What began as an academic interest in Islamic law and religion yielded a fascination with Islamic culture, which disposed him to include Muslims in his expansive vision of American citizenship.”

Read An Excerpt Of “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam And The Founders” by Denise Spellberg

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Nov 26, 2014
Getting together with your family and loved ones at Thanksgiving and the holidays doesn't have to lead to  arguments and fights. (Meg Hunt / Flickr)

The Thanksgiving get-together and all the family drama trimmings. Sage advice from advice columnists.

Nov 26, 2014
A 1597 map of Lesbos / Mytilene, Greece by Giacomo Franco. (Flickr / Creative Commons)

How Aristotle invented science. The great ancient Greek, and life on Earth.

RECENT
SHOWS
Nov 25, 2014
A 40-pound tom turkey looks out at Raymond's Turkey Farm in Methuen, Mass., Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. The farm raises approximately 20,000 Broad Breasted White Holland turkeys per year. (AP)

We’ll talk turkey and all the sides. Top chefs join us to answer your Thanksgiving questions.

 
Nov 25, 2014
A protester squirts lighter fluid on a police car as the car windows are shuttered near the Ferguson Police Department after the announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

Grand Jury decision out of Ferguson — no indictment. We’re on the ground with the latest details and reaction.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Last-Minute Thanksgiving Luxury
Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014

Our three Thanksgiving chefs offer up their best bets for delicious, last-minute holiday helpers, including a crunchy celery salad and maple glazed carrots.

More »
Comment
 
Calling All Interns, Calling All Interns
Monday, Nov 24, 2014

Have you ever thought about interning with On Point Radio? Good news: your time is now!

More »
Comment
 
The Explicast, Episode Six: What Does A White House Press Correspondent Do?
Friday, Nov 21, 2014

We turn to White House Press Correspondents all the time for news, but we’ve never really wondered how they gather their information. Fortunately, our guest host Jessica Yellin had time to sit down with The Explicast to explain.

More »
1 Comment